Scottish Greens advocate taxing vacant land to combat housing crisis

A new report from the Scottish Greens argues £200 million could be generated from vacant and derelict land for affordable housing

VACANT AND DERELICT LAND in Scotland could generate £200 million a year to build affordable homes, according to a new report from Scottish Greens Housing and Land Reform spokesperson Andy Wightman.

The report, entitled ‘This Could Be Home’, argues that giving local councils the power to tax the 20,000 football pitches’ worth of vacant and derelict land in Scotland could generate £200 million for affordable homes as a means of combating the housing crisis.

The report builds upon the case presented by the Scottish Greens in January of 2016, when the party attempted to amend the Land Reform Bill so that almost 13,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land in Scotland could be brought into the non-domestic rates system. The proposal was rejected by the Scottish Government.

Of the 13,000 hectares referred, just under 9,000 are classed as developable. There are almost 4,000 derelict sites in Scotland, including 782 in Glasgow, 487 in North Lanarkshire, 281 in North Ayrshire, 235 in South Lanarkshire and 223 in Fife.

In Edinburgh, which has the highest house prices of any Scottish city, there are 76 derelict sites, along with a further 157 throughout East, West and Midlothian.

However, the report acknowledges that while a levy may be a “potentially important policy tool, the creation of a housing system which delivers decent, warm and affordable housing for everyone will require a much broader shift in housing and land policy.”

“It's unacceptable that landowners can profit from withholding land suitable for housing.” Andy Wightman MSP

Andy Wightman, Housing and Land Reform spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Lothian, said of the report:

"Over half of Scotland's most deprived communities are within 500 metres of vacant and derelict land so there is huge potential to develop and regenerate where it is most needed, and ease the pressure to build on green spaces valued by communities.

“The Scottish Government, in rejecting bolder Land Reform legislation last year, promised to consult on the taxation of derelict and vacant land and I hope this paper brings that forward.

"Given the lack of affordable housing and continuing financial pressures on public services, it's unacceptable that landowners can profit from withholding land suitable for housing.

“There is growing political consensus in Scotland that we need big changes to tackle the housing crisis, so let's not be timid when it comes to giving local councils the power to tax vacant and derelict land."

“The Scottish Land Commission plans to examine ways to bring vacant and derelict land into productive use for economic, social and environmental benefit.” Scottish Government spokesperson

Responding to Wightman’s claim that, despite saying at the time they would consult on the Scottish Greens’ initial 2016 proposal, the Scottish Government has not yet done so, a Scottish Government spokesperson told CommonSpace: “This Government has already delivered over 69,000 affordable homes, ended Right to Buy to prevent the sale of 15,500 houses over a ten year period and re-introduced council house building.

“Over the lifetime of this Parliament we will invest more than £3 billion to deliver 50,000 affordable homes as part of our ambitious, challenging and absolutely necessary targets.

“The Scottish Land Commission plans to examine ways to bring vacant and derelict land into productive use for economic, social and environmental benefit, especially in urban areas. That work will inform any future Scottish Government measures on this issue.”

“The ‘banking’ of land by big companies is a tactic they use to try to control the land in their favour.” Labour MSP Neil Findlay

Speaking to the Morning Star, Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Land value tax is a very interesting proposal.

“The ‘banking’ of land by big companies is a tactic they use to try to control the land in their favour.

“We should consider all options to increase the number of homes, especially social housing, that we build, and the land value tax must be part of that consideration.”

Ireland recently created a Vacant Site Levy similar to the one proposed by the Scottish Greens, with local councils due to levy charges next year.

Picture courtesy of Simon Varwell

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